Give me a crash course in . . . the reintroduction of college fees

 

So fees are back on the agenda? Afraid so. Parents and students will almost certainly be asked to stump up about €2,500 from next September; that’s an increase of €1,000 on the current registration charge.

Any good news? The 50 per cent of students already eligible for grants and other supports won’t have to pay. That includes poorer students, but there are other wily souls who will declare an income just below the €51,000 limit to make sure their children enjoy free college education. (And yes, we are talking about some rich farmers.)

But the Government says some people can well afford to pay fees. And (I hate to admit this) they could be right. About 30 per cent of those in college come from homes with an annual income of over €80,000 per year. And then there are the 27,000 students who attend expensive fee-paying schools. If their parents can afford €30,000-plus for second-level fees over six years, they can well afford €10,000 for a four-year degree.

That, at least, is the Government line.

But Joe Duffy says on Liveline that thousands will be squeezed? I hate to admit this, too, but he could also be right. Low-paid PAYE workers and their families will take some real pain. Trying to find €2,500 in after-tax income will put massive pressure on many families.

Back in the day (that’s before fees were abolished in 1995) students worked in German canning factories and in New York bars to fund their college days. But the supply of these jobs has dried up. And there are precious few part-time jobs available at home.

Result? The new burden will fall on parents already squeezed by the credit crunch, negative equity and the rest.

Is there a better way? Yes, but the Greens vetoed it this time last year. Batt O’Keeffe was lining up a new loan system where college would be free at the point of entry. The plan was that the student registration charge would be bundled with the fees (about €5,000 per year for arts and business) and the debt would be repaid if and when students graduated to a land of milk and honey.

The Greens vetoed the plan, only to accept something much worse this week. The words hoist and petard come to mind.

So college will remain the preserve of the elite and thousands of working-class children who benefited from free fees will again be forced outside the gates? The abolition of fees created no rising tide for disadvantaged children. Only 14 per cent of Leaving Cert students from Dublin 12 (Crumlin/ Drimnagh) progressed to university last year. In sharp contrast, 94 per cent of Leaving Cert students in Killiney went to university.

Sean Flynn